What is Going on Behind the Scenes of History?
What is Going on Behind the Scenes of History?
In the West, many people assume history is aimless: ‘Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (as Shakespeare put it in Macbeth). Many Eastern religions tend to regard history as either circular or illusory, while Marxists understand history in terms of class struggle.
In contrast to all these views, the New Testament sees history as moving towards a climax. The ultimate struggle is between good and evil – ending with the triumph of good and God.
The kingdom of God will not fail. God is working his purposes out in history. Jesus is the centrepiece. All lines in history converge on him. As someone has said: ‘The hinge of history is on the door of a Bethlehem stable.’
History is ‘His story’. As you hear the news and read history books you get some of the details. As you read the Bible you get the big picture. In particular, the book of Revelation unveils what is going on behind the scenes of history.
God is the Sovereign Lord of history. But we are not mere robots. You are not being moved around like a piece on a chessboard. Rather, you have a part to play. God involves you in his plans. God works out his purposes in co-operation with his people.
Be guided by the God of historyPsalm 143:1–12
We need God’s guidance. You have the potential to change the events of history for good. But there are many challenges to be faced.
David was depressed. He was in ‘a black hole’ – a ‘dungeon’: ‘I sat there in despair, my spirit draining away, my heart heavy, like lead’ (v.4, MSG). How do you begin to get yourself out of a situation like this?
Remember the good things
David chose to think about the positive: ‘I remembered the old days, went over all you’ve done, pondered the ways you’ve worked’ (v.5, MSG).
Worship can be an oasis in difficult times. David says, ‘I… stretched out my hands to you, as thirsty for you as a desert thirsty for rain’ (v.6, MSG).
Cry out to God for help
He prays, ‘Hurry with your answer, God! I’m nearly at the end of my rope. Don’t turn away; don’t ignore me!’ (v.7, MSG).
Listen for God’s guidance
Year after year I have written next to the verse, ‘Show me the way I should go’ (v.8a), a list of areas in which I have desperately needed God’s guidance. It is so encouraging to look back and see the way he has guided me – sometimes in ways beyond anything I could have asked or even imagined.
‘O Lord, hear my prayer... my soul thirsts for you like a parched land... Show me the way I should go... I hide myself in you… For your name’s sake, O Lord... bring me out of trouble.’
See behind the scenes of historyRevelation 6:1–17
In spite of all the terrible things that you see going on in the world around you and read about in history, you have great hope. The good news centres on Jesus. Jesus, the Lamb of God, opens the seals of history (v.1). He reveals what is going on behind the scenes of the events you read and hear about.
The gospel preached to all nations
The first rider was given ‘a victory garland. He rode off victorious, conquering right and left’ (v.2, MSG).
This sounds like Jesus himself, the conqueror of death, the crowned King of the universe going out to proclaim good news to the nations.
Wars and military power
The second rider ‘was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people slay each other. To him was given a large sword’ (v.4).
History has been full of violence and warfare, as people have sought to dominate and control each other.
Injustice and inequality
The third rider ‘was holding a pair of black scales in his hand’ (v.5).
Prices had been inflated (v.6). There was an economic disaster. As is the case today, while some live in terrible poverty, others live in luxury (v.6), untouched by the needs of the poor.
The curse of death
The fourth rider ‘was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him’ (v.8a).
Death takes its toll in history. As we read the history of this world it is one of violence (‘kill by sword’), starvation (‘famine’) and disease (‘plague’), as well as other random causes of death (‘the wild beasts of the earth’) (v.8b).
The persecuted church
‘... those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained’ (v.9).
Persecution of Christians continues to the present day. Millions of Christians throughout the world live in daily fear of secret police, vigilantes, or state repression and discrimination. They are suffering because of their faith in Jesus.
The beginning of the end
Jesus predicted similar upheavals to the ones described here – ‘these are the beginning of birth-pains’ (Matthew 24:8). These will no doubt include social and political upheavals, as well as natural disasters.
The six seals give a general view of history between the first and second coming of Jesus.
Lord, may we be peacemakers who feed the hungry, fight against injustice, stand with the persecuted and bring good news as we anticipate your return and the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth that will last forever.
Look at God’s love in historyMalachi 1:1–2:16
‘Look at history’ (v.2, MSG) God says through the prophet Malachi (c.450 BC), whose name means ‘my messenger’. If you want to know how much God loves you, look at history. The message of the God of history is ‘I love you’ (v.2, MSG): ‘Take a good look. Then you’ll see how faithfully I’ve loved you and you’ll want even more’ (v.5, MSG).
The background is that, even after the rebuilding of the temple, there is ‘shoddy, sloppy, defiling worship... worship of God is no longer a priority’ (vv.6–7, MSG): there is a failure to give generously and a breakdown of family life.
The words of this book are hugely challenging to those involved in any kind of leadership of God’s people (v.6).
The priests were the leaders of God’s people. Like the prophets, they were supposed to be the ones through whom God spoke: ‘For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth people should seek instruction – because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty’ (2:7).
The challenge to us all is:
Single-minded determination to see God’s name honoured
‘Set your heart to honour my name’ (v.2).
Receive ‘life and peace’
God has covenanted (promised) to give ‘life and peace’ (v.5) – these are two of the greatest blessings you can ever receive.
Worship God with reverence and awe
This should be our response to God’s extraordinary generosity and kindness: ‘This called for reverence and [Levi] revered me and stood in awe of my name’ (v.5).
Teach the truth
‘True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips’ (v.6a).
Live a righteous life
‘He walked with me in peace and uprightness’ (v.6b). Christian leaders must set an example by living holy lives.
Lead a life of helping others to find a relationship with God
‘… and turned many from sin’ (v.6b).
Next, Malachi turns to relationships. He criticises them for marrying non-believers (v.11). This is also discouraged elsewhere in Scripture (see 2 Corinthians 6:14). We might find this challenging. The imagery Malachi uses here can help us understand why it is not a good idea. He describes non-believers as ‘the daughter of a foreign god’ (Malachi 2:11), a phrase which highlights their competing religious views.
All of us have religious ideas and beliefs, even if they are the belief that there is no God. Giving ourselves to someone who holds a different belief may ultimately pull us away from God.
God wanted children to be brought up in the security of the marriage relationship: ‘Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel… So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith’ (vv.15–16).
These words can seem harsh, but actually they are a reminder of how much God loves and values marriage. It is because marriage is so wonderful that God is so utterly opposed to anything that would undermine it.¹
Unfaithfulness begins in our hearts: ‘Therefore, keep a watch upon your spirit (that it may be controlled by My Spirit), that you deal not treacherously and faithlessly (with your marriage mate)’ (v.16, AMP).
Lord, thank you for Jesus who came to make forgiveness possible. May we guard ourselves in our hearts and in our spirits and not break faith.
¹ For more in depth exploration of the subject of divorce, see The Jesus Lifestyle, chapter 6, ‘How to view marriage and divorce’.
‘Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.’
The day goes much better if I have read the Bible in the morning and found encouragement in God’s unfailing love. Without this time with God, it feels to me like going outside without a coat on – something rather important is missing.
Verse of the Day
‘Show me the way I should go,
For to you I entrust my life’ (Psalm 143:8).
William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.